Dienstag, 23. September 2014

The unknown Berlin: Visiting the former French sector in Reinickendorf

Through all my wandering in Berlin in the last years, I somehow forgot to explore properly Reinickendorf. Although I knew quite well that it used to be the area in West Berlin designated as the French Sector, I did not find anything interesting except the visit itself to bring me there. Shortly after my long summer holidays, I decided that this injustice should be corrected and took the S-Bahn till Wilhelmsruher Damm. The station, nowadays originally decorated with tiles in the 1960s style, was originally opened in 1877, under the name Rosenthal. The current name was given in 1937.
The first impression of the area was not extraordinary: a lot of small 1-2-storey houses, with parkings and car washing small shops.
Together with parts of Wedding, this area used to be the headquarters of the French military in the West Berlin. The so-called Quartier Napoléon included around 80 small Corbusier villas, that nowadays remind of the HLM from the French suburbs, a school, a big shopping center, and a mobile hospital unit. As usual, French 'occupation' bring more than a physical presence, but always a slice of culture, institutions and style. 

After the end of the Cold War and the withdrawal of the French forces, the area went through an identity and especially economic crisis. The houses were hard to rent, especially due to the relative lack of appeal of the area: not too many restaurants, complicated and long connections to the center, limited number of schools.

In time, the hunger for more real estate increased, the area get a little bit of embellishment and new bus connections were created. Nowadays, the renting capacity is almost full. 

However, the big shopping center, aimed to serve the needs of the French representatives and their family still remains empty, and the French inscriptions are hanging up sadly near the wild grass. Compared to other similar abandoned places in Berlin, is no danger of bad smells and the graffiti art is rather modest if any. 

Some statues are laying on the ground, senseless and waiting to be taken somewhere better. Wish I could find someone to explain more about the recent past of the place.
The streets were quiet, with people walking their dogs, but no one was speaking any French, and what was left from the former French memories were the names of the streets: Rue Montesquieu, Jean Jaurès, Racine. The block houses do have back yards, in the middle of playgrounds with small benches to rest.
 The former French School is still there, with children coming and going from the classrooms.
And it was all. The journey through the former Cité Foch was uneventful and not as Francophone as I always expected from a former French Sector. Initially, it was called Toucoulou, after the name of a city in Central African Republic, probably a memory of the former French colonies.
I continued the walking a bit more, despite the pouring rain, discovering new interesting architecture and new stylish villa, on Nimrodstrasse. It reminded me a bit of Grunewald, except that the spaces were more open and less private. 
The visit of the former French sector was not that exciting as I was expecting, but 25 years after the fall of the Wall, it's about time to think about a normal life of the city, West and East coming along together. 

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